Dredd 3D.  Another action remake.  Judge Dredd was originally a comic, and it was good.  It was rewritten with another story line, and it was still good.  Then it was a movie, and it was bad.  Really bad.  Like, Rob Schneider bad.  Oh, right, that’s because he was actually in the first movie.  Now it’s a movie again, and it lacked the comic book back-story and it was low on character development.  There was no love story, no lesson-learned and the movie didn’t take itself seriously which is OH MY GOD WHY THIS MOVIE WAS SO DAMN AWESOME!

From the very first scene where Dredd shot a scorching assault flare into a hostage-taker’s pie-hole and turned him into a human jack-o-lantern (which was beautifully presented to us in stunning 3D and slow motion, bye the way) to the very last scene where Dredd, after 95 minutes, was still relentlessly stomping people’s shit into the ground, this movie was one hell of a thrill ride!


The movie is set in a post economic-collapse wasteland where the U.S. is now known as the Jersey Sh- um, Cursed Earth.  The cities are massively overpopulated, under-governed, and full of crime.  Among the 800 million residents of the eastern costal Mega-City One, 17,000 crimes are reported every day.  The last bastion of hope for humanity is these one-stop-shop cops called judges.  When you screw up, they show up, level the situation, assess your crime and you do the time…or they execute you on the spot.  They are the judge, the jury and the executioner.  THEY ARE THE LAWWWW.

Judge Dredd is a veteran and resident pissed-off badass in the Hall Of Justice who is assigned to evaluate a failing rookie named Judge Cassandra Anderson, who also happens to be a psychic…and blond…and hot.  Shes reserved, emotional, and compassionate.  Everything that Dredd is not.  The unlikely pair gets called to a crime scene at a 200-floor mega shithole slum apartment complex.  What at first seemed to be a routine case turns into an all-out war when they cross paths with a murderous kingpin drug lord named Ma-Ma.  She’s an ex-hooker turned, uh, businesswoman, and she isn’t about to let the judges clean up her act.  Ma-Ma’s crew lock down the building, and all hell breaks loose.  The next hour of the movie becomes an action-packed race against time, with Dredd and Anderson fighting off crazed residents, drug addicts and Ma-Ma’s henchmen.

The drug being manufactured is called slo-mo.  It’s an inhaled chemical that makes the brain think that everything is happening at only 1% of normal speed.  The existence of the drug in the movie allowed the film makers to create a tastefully-placed slow-motion cinematic sub-theme scattered throughout the movie, utilizing some extremely beautifully-colored 3d slow-motion cut sequences, focusing on everything from blood, body parts, water to the drug itself.  Though the entire movie experience is had with 3d glasses on, it’s easy to forget about the effect at times.  There’s enough slow motion scenes and 3d experience to be noted and appreciated, but not too many as to be a burden or a creative crutch.

The three key players in the film are Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), Judge Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) and Madelaine Madrigal a.k.a. Ma-Ma (Lena Headey).  Each of the three actors/characters provides a simplistic, but polarizing character force that steadily holds a push-and-pull effect between good and evil, reserved and explosive, compassionate and judgemental.

  • Karl Urban does a great job as the deadpan administer of justice.  He can’t be bought or intimidated.  His job is grueling, unforgiving and relentless.  Since Karl doesn’t overact, reveal much emotion, and has such a hard-line delivery, it really shines his character through more as a representation of what he stands for than who he personally is as a man.  He is the unmovable rock of the law.
  • Olivia Thirlby’s character, Judge Anderson, is the true antithesis to Judge Dredd.  She is a psychic, which makes it hard for her not to become emotionally involved with her cases.  She wants justice, she just has a different approach than Dredd, which sometimes results in the use of mental tactics, rather than brute physical force.  Olivia does well by playing on her character’s sense of heart, and adding some gray into Dredd’s otherwise black-and-white world.
  • Lena Headey’s Ma-Ma is a cold-hearted ice-queen.  Her past as a battered prostitute has transformed her into a ruthless leader who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.  Lena does well conveying just how little Ma-Ma cares about anything or anyone besides her own quest for anarchy and power.  Lena’s eyes reveal that a part of her might even be looking forward to the day when she gets killed by a judge or another monster looking to usurp her dark throne.   Her complete disregard for life shows that she probably died inside a long time ago.

Now, let’s break down exactly why this movie is a winner and why the rest of the asleep-at-the-wheel suits in Hollywood should take some advice from this remake action gem.

A good comic book movie writer has the daunting task of cutting down on insider script that most non-fanboys won’t understand, while still keeping a sense of the original franchise intact for the hardcore comic fans.

As some of you Dredd comic fans will know, the storylines are pretty involved (Democracy, Origins).  They go in depth about the collapse of the old world, describe the birth of the judgment system, and weave various sub-plots involving multiple arch-enemies, such as the undead Judge Death.  Put all of that into a 95-minute movie?  Imagine having 6 girlfriends (oh, yeah!), and they’re all trying to tell you about their bad day at work/the fight they had with their mother/last shopping experience all at once (oh, no!).  Has your head exploded, yet?

Alex Garland made a tough call with the script, and essentially chopped most of the back-story, politics, character development, aliens and robots.  What was left over from the fat-trimming was a quick story setup, a few good guys, a crap-load of bad guys, and lots of insanely violent, creative, and sometimes hilarious conflict resolution.

Instead of re-writing A Tale Of Two Cities with automatic weapons and motorcycles, the Dredd 3D remake basically focused on a day in the life of Judge Dredd, a futuristic law enforcer.  We never learn his name or anything personal about him.  We never even get to see his eyes, as he doesn’t remove his helmet (a tip of the hat to the comic books).  He is an enigma.  Judge Dredd is more of a representation of the struggle for truth and justice in a time of utter despair than an actual person.  It’s simple, it’s honest and it leaves more time for Dredd to be snappin’ necks and cashin’ checks…and shooting people in the face… and setting them on fire, and smashing their heads into concrete walls, literally punching bodily fluid out of them, donating grenades to a good cause, throwing them through windows, off of ledges and against more walls.

In addition to the minimalist framework of the story, another reason that Dredd really held up was because of the movie’s own attitude.  It purposefully didn’t take itself too seriously.  Granted, there were themes of extreme violence, fear and pain, but the follow-through of the movie was such that it wanted to acknowledge to the audience that it was just taking you on a ride.  It wasn’t trying to teach anyone any important life lessons, or hold the main character up on a pedestal.  There were a few tongue-in-cheek moments, some self-satire and most of the humor was delivered so dead-pan that you just had to laugh.  The occasional jokes were served up to the audience on a silver platter as little treats, quick breaks in the action along the way.

I’m sure that if you went through this movie with a fine-toothed comb, you could find a few faults here and there, but when you’re having a blast, who’s nitpicking?  Who really cares when a you have a huge smile on your face?  Dredd 3D was a near-perfect combination of action, violence, humor, justice, and THE LAWWWW!

EDITORS NOTE: review submitted via NB contributor Philip Mauch. @TheRealPJM

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